Perhaps you’ve seen some of Christine McConnell’s work online. She’s become well-known for her monstrous desserts, which have gone viral a number of times. Her cakes often look like they could bite and feature appendages like tentacles and insectoid legs. The photos she stages to display these treats are two parts horror, one part vintage pin-up, and have a liberal dash of irreverent humor. Her artistic work and baking wisdom is now collected in a cookbook, Deceptive Desserts, which is available now. You can have your cake and your tentacles too! You won’t find many cookbooks like it.
There’s so many desserts to choose from in this book, it’s impossible to pick a favorite. There’s food that looks like other food (fried chicken doughnuts), visual puns (“crab cakes”), some sci-fi throwbacks (UFO cookies), some cakes that are just ornately pretty, and other cakes that are straight up monsters.
While I was expecting this book to focus more on the sculptural skills needed to make cookie look like a facehugger and a cake look like Godzilla in wedding dress, it is a legit cookbook with a different recipe for each project. Just looking at the table of contents, it’s not always obvious what the actual flavors will be, but there’s a satisfying variety that include the classics you expect, along with a few pleasant surprises like Almond Joy and cherry cream flavored cakes. I wasn’t expecting there to be as many recipes as there were, so this book was much heftier in person than I had imagined — and that’s a good thing!
Each dish comes with it’s own design instructions, including, when necessary, tips for creating a fitting cake stand. For a book that focuses on presentation, the assembly directions aren’t always very detailed. It’s enough to get you started, but I would have liked a small section on modeling techniques.
Christine is obviously a master of her craft, so I wasn’t expecting similar results right away. To be honest, I’m drawn to this cookbook more out of an appreciation for Christine’s artistry than my ambition to recreate her work. Still, that isn’t to say this book can’t be for gung-ho beginners. In the introduction Christine writes:
I should start by telling one truth: four years ago, I had never baked a cake. I mean, I had made brownies and some cookies, but otherwise nothing really mind-blowing. I can clearly remember looking at pictures of cakes online and thinking, “You know what? I should take a class or something on how to do that!” Without much free time or expendable income, I started watching YouTube tutorials and reading bits here and there online and in old cookbooks. Most of my kitchen equipment I borrowed from family or bought at estate sales. I began posting anything I made online and found people to be really encouraging and supportive, motivating me to work harder.
What could be more encouraging than that!
Feeling sufficiently motivated by this intro/pep-talk — and because I have bizarrely strong opinions about people who review cookbooks without trying any recipes (The worst!) — I decided to make some tarantula cookies:
I picked this recipe because it had some of the elements that I admired in Christine’s work — it’s structural, manages to look like something it’s not, it’s covered in chocolate — and because, frankly, I didn’t own enough cake pans to make something with tiers (another vote in favor of having makespaces for chefs). Here’s how I did:
This recipe calls for caramel or royal icing, which are from the basics chapter that Christine encourages readers to master if they’re new to baking (like me) before moving onto the rest of the book. Well, I didn’t master either of those recipes. My first attempt, while obviously arachnoid, fell short of my high hopes. It was my first time making caramel from scratch and I discovered, quite by accident, that making lava is faster and easier.
Anything worth doing is usually worth doing very poorly your first time, so I will probably make a second attempt (and possibly many more attempts). Mark my words! I will master these spiders.
For the experienced baker with a sense of humor or with tastes that trend toward the macabre. For the maker who is not afraid to jump in the deep end first. For the person who just has mad love for what Christine does… Deceptive Desserts is for you.